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The Hubble Space Telescope recently recorded a spectacular cosmic clash – two galaxies colliding into a kind of hostile merger. Even with all that space in space (!) these two blooming galaxies have to duke it out, jostling for a spot.

Doesn’t it seem as if there’s always someone with another perspective ready to tussle with you? I found it interesting how this news story was framed in dramatically different ways:

At Long Last, Flat Earth Rocketeer Finally Manages to Blast Himself Into the Sky at God Knows What Speed

Self Taught Rocket Scientist Finally Blasts Off Into California Sky

Whatever impression you may form of “Mad Mike” Hughes, there’s no denying that he put his life on the line for his beliefs.

Today, across the country, March for Our Lives rallies were held in support of gun control. It was a moment in which the youth made themselves heard.

As with every heated subject, some disagreed with the focus of the march. Former Senator Rick Santorum made waves by saying students should learn CPR, not worry about gun laws.

Still, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s hard not to admire the passion and principle of these student leaders. They’re going all in, as if they’re in the fight of their lives.

Pope Francis spoke to a crowd during his Palm Sunday address, encouraging young people to continue speaking up. “Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet…I ask you: Will you cry out?”

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Recently, a student brought a loaded gun to the high school my son attended. Cole’s in college now, so we weren’t directly affected; still, it was unsettling to hear of such a thing so close to home.

The next day, I received word that a threat had been made to a teacher, so all township schools would be closed. A follow-up text said the incident had not happened in our town of Franklin, which is in central Jersey, but in the other Franklin in our state, which is in north Jersey. Oh. Okay! No problem then. Why didn’t I feel any less tense about it?

Everything is in your neighborhood now, isn’t it? You’re not directly affected, yet somehow, you still feel directly affected.

As I look at the student coalition advocating for gun control after the attack on their high school, I’m experiencing something I’ve never felt before: I’m both encouraged and discouraged at the same time.

The student movement’s leaders are capable young people with convictions and confidence, ready to take on the world. What about the kids who aren’t being heard? The ones who show up for class in worn-out sneakers, who eat lunch alone and get picked on in gym class? These are the young souls who end up folding in or lashing out.

Gun control, yes. Mental health background checks for gun purchases, okay – provided you define your terms. Does that include people with depression? Anxiety? On medication of any kind? How about Asperger’s? Who decides?

But also, a call to arms of a different kind: working together to remind each other that words and actions have impact. To encourage each other to honor the humanity in every person they meet.

How we get there as a nation is anybody’s guess.  Until then, we pray.

There’s just so much not to talk about today! Take the latest school shooting, for example. Oh, it’s being talked about now. But just give it a few days. Things will settle back to ordinary. And then there will be yet another shooting. It’s cool. We’re okay with this course of events. America has elected a new god and it is guns — singular and plural — and we are perfectly willing to sacrifice our children on our new god’s altar. Eighteen times in 30 days! No one can say we are not devout.

Let’s also not talk about Father James Martin, dubbed the most dangerous man in the Catholic Church for implying, hinting, suggesting that we ought to treat LGBTQ Catholics with dignity and kindness. For this, Father Martin receives all manner of hate mail. It’s good to know that I needn’t turn to another faith practice in order to find the most small-minded one on earth. I can remain a Catholic!

What else should we not discuss? Golly, there’s so much. But no one listens when I get angry. Let me turn instead to my old friend poetry.

Stitch my eyes shut:
I will still see. Numb my mouth
with platitudes and prayer:
I will rouse my tongue.
Tell me I cannot change
people, places, things:
I will wave you away
like a phantasm.
Heaven dropped fire
into my soul. I will scald,
blacken, raise flame.
Even in silence, I smolder.

Let me dazzle you with
incendiary verbiage;
fireworks of thought —
wonder! Delight! Gape
as sparks fly
into upturned mouths.
I need only enflame
one tongue. Then,
and only then,
can I rest in ashes.

Every time a mass shooting occurs, The Onion runs the same headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” And every time a mass shooting occurs, Facebook explodes with opinions from both sides of the gun control debate. Because apparently some people are perfectly content living in a country where they and their children are 20 times more likely to die by gun violence than in any other civilized country on the map.

There are no arguments. Not anymore. Don’t tell me “guns don’t kill people; people do.” Yes. People with guns. Do you not get that? Don’t explain patiently that the killers on 9/11 didn’t use guns. I know that. And we immediately did something about it — we changed the way we fly; we put people on lists; we went to war (with the wrong country, but whatever). But there’s nothing we can do about guns? Fine then. What’s the other near-constant in gun violence? White guys. Shall we legislate against them? Oh wait. They’re the ones in charge of absolutely everything.

Well, I’m done arguing. Your right to own an object does not supersede my right to live.

In better, calmer times, I wrote the following (as Ruth recently reminded me). I’ve decided that it will be my version of The Onion article. Get used to seeing it, folks. Because we may worship God here in America, but guns — ah! Those are our real deity.

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

 

Right after 9/11, I did a strange thing — I wrote a funny Halloween story. It was part of a contest, sponsored by our local PBS radio station. I wrote it because it occurred to me that horror had suddenly become such a routine part of our lives. We were living horror every day. What we needed, desperately, was laughter. My story was later read on air…but that’s not the point. The point is, here we are again. And I haven’t got anything funny to say.

It isn’t funny that LGBTQ persons have been attacked in what was, for them, a safe space…perhaps the only one they had.

It isn’t funny that they still need safe places in this day and age.

It isn’t funny that, among the huge outpouring of love and concern over the deaths in Orlando, there are still a few bad seeds who so misread the Gospel as to believe that God does not love everyone, no matter whom they love.

It isn’t funny that no matter how many people are killed by firearm in this country, we cannot effect meaningful dialog on gun control.

It isn’t funny that I am certain our founding fathers did not mean for this to be so.

It isn’t funny that the easiest way (by far) to murder so many people in so short a time is by gun.

It isn’t funny that the NRA is happy to accept money from terrorists and the mentally ill.

It isn’t funny that someone on the “no fly” list can buy a gun with ease and that so many of us refuse to even discuss why this isn’t funny.

It isn’t funny that the idiotic hysteria of “They’re coming for our guns!” still seems to work. When has anyone come for your guns? When has that happened?

It isn’t funny that we can wait for a marriage license, a driver’s license, for the ability to buy the car we want with the options we want, but we can’t wait a single minute to own a gun.

It isn’t funny when a politician’s takeaway from a mass murder is “I told you so.”

But the least funny thing of all is that this will happen again. The US suffers more gun deaths than any first-world nation on earth — innocent people, little kids. And we won’t even stop for a moment to analyze why because we’re too afraid to. Not funny, folks. Not even a little.

I’m angry. Cartoon angry: steam is coming out of my ears. My face is a hue somewhere between “beet” and “red hot lava.” Though I’ve never used my fists in anger in my life, I feel as though I could break a stack of bricks, like one of those amazing karate videos you see on YouTube. Yeah, THAT angry.

Why? Several reasons. My good friend (and fellow blogger) SueBE has written a book for young people (called “Black Lives Matter”) that is being denounced by people who have neither read it nor have any idea what it purports to say. Ignorant people. Close-minded people. The kind of people I have had it up to here (gestures) with. “It says the author writes historical nonfiction for children. So glad to see she’s branched out into fiction,” sniffs one commenter. The enormity of the wrong-headedness of this person (and her ilk) could blot out the sun.

Throw in the recent deaths of a news reporter and camera man by yet another deranged guy with a gun (we seem to have an endless supply of them in this country), tragedies that ought to be met with renewed resolve to do something about the matter, but are instead already raising the hackles of the NRA-faithful in a deafening roar that somehow makes the words “second amendment” louder than “people bleeding to death on the sidewalk.” I get it. YOU didn’t kill anyone; that guy did. And that guy. Oh, and that other guy. And her. And them. And that person and that person and that person…. Seriously, am I the only one who sees a pattern here?

I give myself permission to be angry. God made our emotions; there are no wrong ones. It’s what we do with them that matters. In a song by PIL, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) sings, “Anger is an energy.” That’s the powerful side of anger, the side that gets things done. Instead of taking my anger out on hapless individuals (like that guy did), I prefer to channel it into something more constructive.

I’m going to do everything I can to champion my friend and her work and the content of that work. I will continue to push for (and vote for) gun control. I will get angry when and where I need to in support of social justice for everybody, including those so blinded to their own privilege, they can’t even discern that this privilege does not extend to anyone beyond the reach of their own fingertips.

And I am going to pray. Oh, Lord, I’m going to rent the heavens. God, make us all angry — angry enough to decide to stop hurting one another once and for all. Because a prayer like that demands energy. And if it has to come from anger, so be it.

Back in college, I once had to take a bus to the airport in Indianapolis, a two-hour drive. A fierce snowstorm was brewing, and none of my friends dared drive me themselves. Boarding the Greyhound, I found every seat taken but one…in the very last row in the back, next to a man who made Charles Manson look like a choirboy. Knowing full well that the driver would be concentrating on the storm and would never see my imminent death, I took the seat anyway.

Though I immediately stuck my nose in a book and prayed for anonymity, my seatmate engaged me in conversation. He even introduced me to his friend “Red Dog,” who occupied a seat ahead of us and to the right. (Why weren’t they sitting together?) Turns out, my new friend was on his way to Chicago after a disastrous trip to Las Vegas, during which he was incarcerated for possession of “one little knife.” With these words, he drew a dagger from his boot.

“How unfair,” I hear myself squeak.

That I made it to Indy at all (with Red Dog even gallantly helping with my luggage) is an act I attribute directly to divine intervention.

Yesterday, I saw an article about the number of weapons seized at airports in 2014: an average of six guns a day, with a high of 18 one day in June. Grenades, C-4, landmines. Not to mention the wide panoply of knives and other pointy things. Knives baked into food, knives disguised as markers and canes or slipped into the inner workings of a laptop. Hundreds and hundreds of knives, all knowingly hidden from authorities.

What struck me first was the number of people who openly flouted the rules of air travel. What struck me second was this: why? Were the weapons meant for self-defense or something more nefarious? Why in a nation of people who overwhelmingly believe in God, who claim to be religious, who call out for prayer in school and demand to know on Facebook whether or not I agree that we are one nation “UNDER GOD” — why in the world are we all armed to the teeth?

If we truly are a Christian nation (as some pundits assert — I rather hope we are more diverse than just that), then why do we feel the need to fend off one another, to be ready to attack at will? Jesus never carried a weapon. When confronted with violence, he turned the other cheek, accepted the crown of thorns, carried the cross, let the nails be hammered into his skin. It says very little of Americans that we are so prone to violence, so attached to our weapons of choice that we dare not be parted from them even while we travel by winged metal tube for a few paltry hours.

Violence and the weapons from which violence springs cannot be held in tension with true spirituality and belief in a loving, giving God. The two are incongruous. As St. Paul observed, they will know we are Christians by our love, not by the razor-sharpness of our blade or the caliber of our firearm.

Being Christian means loving others not just as much as we love ourselves, but as much as Christ himself loves them. And that requires a love beyond human bounds, a love that does not discriminate, that does hesitate, that does not demand qualifications. It is the kind of love that makes weapons ludicrous, laughable.

So what gives? Either a large number of us are hypocrites, or we love our weapons more than we love God. And yes, I know that’s an inflammatory statement; I meant it to be. This is a subject that demands serious self-examination. If you believe in the sanctity of gun rights, how do you square that with the perfection of love your faith calls you to? And no, “hunting” is not a sufficient reply. No one’s going hunting at 20,000 feet. (I hope.)

This isn’t chocolate and peanut butter, folks. These are two ideas that don’t go together. So why not put down your weapons? Arm yourself with love instead. I guarantee a better bus ride for all of us.

My husband and I went to a flea market last weekend, not realizing that it was automobile-centric until we got there. (I think my husband was secretly thrilled; like all males, he responds to any sort of thing that goes vroom!) We passed a vendor selling slogans to put on one’s vehicle, many of them religious: “Jesus is my savior,” “God is my co-pilot”, etc. Right next to this display was another display, only these slogans took a more aggressive tone: “I’ll give up my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” “My guns, my rights” and that sort of thing. It seemed an odd juxtaposition. On the one hand, it seemed to shout, “I am Christian.” On the other, it proclaimed, “Owning guns is quite possibly the most important thing to me.”

I get it. Guns are useful objects, if one is a hunter or needs to protect oneself. What I don’t understand is how they became the object of an almost cult-like worship by so many Americans. You don’t see this in other parts of the world. Of course, other parts of the world don’t have our murder-by-gun rate, either.

This quandary takes center stage at the moment, as our government discusses new gun control laws. You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the bays of outrage against this possibility. And I get it. It’s in the Constitution; we have the right to bear arms. On the other hand, I have a hard time believing our forefathers visualized assault weapons, armor-piercing bullets, and stockpiles of weaponry that could arm a small nation, all in the hands of a single person.

There are those who would say (and do) that a hammer can be used to kill someone, and ought we to outlaw hammers? All I can say is that I’d rather be attacked with a hammer than a gun. A hammer can’t take out dozens of people in the span of a few minutes. A hammer can’t be deployed from across the room.

But all this rhetoric is not the point. The point is the curious attachment we Americans have to our firearms. We claim to be a Christian people. How do guns fit with that notion? Jesus, Prince of Peace, would never touch a weapon of any sort. The Bible exhorts us to love one another. The Ten Commandments not only direct us not to kill, they tell us up-front what is most important: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” No other gods. I submit that if you are willing to give up your guns only when someone plucks them from your “cold, dead hands,” you may need to rethink the First Commandment. Your love of guns is veering awfully close to idolatry.

I’m not asking for all guns to be done away with. I’m not pretending that people (sick, angry people) are not the real problem — a gun is just an object; only a person can be a murderer. I’m just asking, “Can we try to be consistent?” Guns and God do not go together. In the words of Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other.” What if — and I’m just suggesting — we put God first and then discern where guns belong? I suspect they would fall rather farther down on our list of priorities.

God is love. Love doesn’t need an arsenal. That’s all I’m saying.

Division has reached crisis proportions. The sea of discordant voices is at fever pitch: gun control versus the Second Amendment, anti-abortion versus pro-choice, Democrats versus Republicans. Say anything, and you’re bound to be greeted by wails of defiance. Women in combat? Health care for the poor? Phooey! I’m telling you, if Jesus came back tomorrow and offered the world everlasting peace, there would be complaints. And not just low-level muttering, either. Shouts. Screams. How dare you! In many ways, the human race is in a state of permanent toddlerhood. We’re in our “terrible twos”…forever, cursed with a permanent level of discontent with virtually everything.

Enough, already. I’ve had it. Facebook, which started out as a serendipitous connection to past friends and faraway family, has turned rancorous with opinion. I can’t stand it anymore. But what is the option? To not engage is just as detrimental. To take oneself out of the equation changes nothing. So?

So I do this. I do the only thing I can do. Like Cassandra of mythology, consider me a harbinger. I predict that if you keep haranguing people about your unwillingness to participate in even the discussion of gun control, you will find yourself on the wrong side of history. I predict that not listening to “the other side” — whatever that is — will leave you stranded, quite alone in your own miserable bubble. I predict that insisting on being right, rather than being compassionate, will not end well for you. Because we all need compassion. And if you don’t give it, you don’t get it. Period.

I get it. We all take our beliefs seriously. And that’s fine…good, even. You should feel strongly about things. But let’s think about how we express ourselves. Are we leaving room for calm, rational discussion or flatly stating that ours is the only way to think? Are we dismissive of others’ opinions? Do we react with openness to others or with reflexive anger?

Don’t think I’m excusing myself from this discussion. If there were ever a queen of “I’m right-ness,” it’s me. But I have been pushing myself to listen more and judge less. I don’t get into arguments on Facebook if I can help it. I don’t argue with those who will not listen. It’s an ongoing job and one I take seriously. Maybe I can’t change anyone’s opinion. But maybe I can get them to agree to listen. That’s a win-win if there ever was one.

Today, let’s all do one thing: Let’s remember that we don’t know everything. Only God does. And He might not agree with our opinions. Let’s leave the door open, just a crack, to let other people of varying ideas and stances in. Let’s remember that if we don’t start agreeing on something, we will end up with nothing. And no one wants that, right?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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